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Teenagers find it hard to discuss mental health
Irish Times 14/05/2007
By Dr Muiris Houston – Irish college of practitioners

Less than 20% of secondary school students who responded to a survey said they could discuss health issues with their doctor.

And one in three teenagers who visit a GP with a medical problem leave without discussing the issue which concerns them, the study suggests.

The study of over 300 fifth year students in West Cork found that embarrassment was the principal reason why teenagers felt unable to broach a problem. Some 70% of respondents said they would welcome teenage-specific clinics in local practices where they could access advice and treatment.

Dr Joan Lynch a GP registrar with the Cork GP training-programme, said that the main health issues concerning teenagers were skin problems, Sexually transmitted disease, weight issues, contraception and anxiety/depression. But just 19% of female students and 17% of male students said they felt able to discuss issues such as anxiety and depression with their doctors – a finding Dr Lynch described as worrying given the high level of suicide among young people.
The assurance of complete confidentiality was the main priority for students who took part in the survey, which won the GP registrar research prize at the annual meeting of the Irish College of GP's at the weekend.

Other key concerns for teenagers were the availability of a friendly and helpful practice receptionist and the option of consulting a GP of the same sex. The cost of seeing a doctor was not the major issue for the respondents, over 80% of who had attended their GP in the past year.

“I think teenage-specific clinics are a good idea and should be part of a general practice,” Dr Lynch told the Irish Times.

In a separate study into the sexual health of young people in the South-east, Dr Yvonne Kearny a GP registrar in Waterford , found that embarrassment was the main barrier experienced by 16/17 year olds when looking for help and information on sexual issues.

Overall, females had a better knowledge of fertility and contraception than males, with some 50% of young women and 20% of young men aware that it was possible to take emergency contraception up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Some 73 per cent said that emergency contraception should be available over the counter in pharmacies.

Dr Kearney also called for the introduction of clinics in general practices to help address the “obvious knowledge deficit in sexual health awareness in young people”.